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Monument in McKeesport park gives late 'Poo' Burke his due

| Friday, Nov. 22, 2013, 10:42 a.m.
Jennifer R. Vertullo | Daily
Billie Mae Vranka and Chuck Danforth reveal a monument in honor of the late Lee 'Poo' Burke during a Thursday morning ceremony in McKeesport.
Jennifer R. Vertullo | Daily News
City officials and representatives of the McKeesport Healthier Communities PartnerSHIP gather at the corner of Coursin Street and Shaw Avenue for the Thursday morning dedication of a monument to the late Lee 'Poo' Burke.
Jennifer R. Vertullo | Daily News
Alexus Burke, daughter of the late Lee 'Poo' Burke, and her mother Amber Kimmell listen as Pastor Jody Dausey dedicates a monument in his memory during a Thursday morning cermony in McKeesport.
Jennifer R. Vertullo | Daily News
Retired McKeesport police Lt. Bill Matuch remembers his friend and colleague Lee 'Poo' Burke during a Thursday ceremony dedicating a monument in his honor.

McKeesport's Healthier Community PartnerSHIP honored the late police officer Lee “Poo” Burke on Thursday morning.

Burke was remembered for his contributions to the Weed & Seed initiative in McKeesport Area schools during a ceremony at the Victims of Crime Memorial Park near the intersection of Coursin Street and Shaw Avenue.

The park was dedicated in 2007 by the state health improvement plan, Womansplace and the city's now-defunct Weed & Seed Department, which oversaw the state-funded McKeesport anti-drug initiative.

Burke, a McKeesport native, died on Feb. 17, 2009, of medical complications related to diabetes at age 40. He was a city officer from 1998-2009.

He was the Weed & Seed law enforcement coordinator, and was named Shipmate of the Year by the PartnerSHIP in 2007.

A monument with Burke's badge No. 228, sponsored by the PartnerSHIP and Willig Funeral Home, was dedicated at Thursday's ceremony.

The funeral home released doves, and the Rev. Jody Dausey led prayers and songs.

Bill Matuch, a retired McKeesport lieutenant who worked with Burke, shared that Burke often patronized city stores when he bought cupcakes and other food and drinks for the students in his programs.

McKeesport Hospital Foundation gave money to the PartnerSHIP for the development of Victims of Crime Memorial Park via the foundation's project safety logic model.

Burke was not a victim of violent crime, but many wanted to honor him, McKeesport Hospital Foundation director Michele Matuch said.

“All different organizations asked if we could do a memorial, something in his honor because he did all the programs in the schools,” she said. “He had this way with children. They loved him so much.”

Sherry Ward, chairperson of crime and safety initiatives for the PartnerSHIP and the city's former Weed & Seed director, said Burke was honored in a place dedicated to violent crime victims because of his message, and because he is buried at nearby Fairview Cemetery.

“He was always trying to get the kids not to be involved with violence and he tried to prevent them from going the wrong way,” Ward said.

“He was very dedicated, especially to the kids,” Bill Matuch said. “He wanted to bridge the space between the police department, the police officers and the kids. He thought it was very important that the kids would go to policemen, talk to them and not be afraid of them.”

Burke's daughter Alexus, 15, attended the ceremony with her mother Amber Kimmell.

“It just means a lot,” Kimmell said. “He always had a way to make everyone smile. He would walk down a street and you would hear, ‘Hey, Poo!' He was a good police officer, and he would try to do anything he could for you. This (monument) is something to show that he wasn't forgotten for all the hard work that he did.”

Allegheny County Juvenile Court's Community Intensive Supervision Program participants were among those who helped clean up the park in preparation for Thursday's ceremony.

Supervisor Keonte Campbell grew up with Burke in Harrison Village and was proud to recognize his friend.

“I knew him personally, and being able to come back and help assist with his endeavours and help volunteer and help the community was something that was gratifying to me,” Campbell said.

“Our kids being able to help the community was also something great for us. We have kids from McKeesport and all through the Mon Valley. We like to give back to the community, and we're very fortunate to help out with this endeavour.”

Michael DiVittorio is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-664-9161 ext. 1965, or mdivittorio@tribweb.com.

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